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Feb. 26, 2002

Ann Hutchison

NASA Ames Research Center, Moffett Field, Calif.

Phone: 650/604-3039 or 650/604-9000



On March 1, Kenneth A. Souza, acting director of the Astrobiology and Space Research Directorate at NASA Ames Research Center, will retire after more than 35 years of government service.

During his NASA career, Souza managed many of the nation’s most important space and gravitational biology flight research programs. He led teams of scientists and engineers who developed and flew more than 400 life sciences experiments in space. He also pioneered successful collaborations with scientists in the former Soviet Union at the height of the Cold War. It was under Souza’s direction that the research for many high-profile NASA experiments in gravitational and space biology was initiated and undertaken. Much of what scientists now know about the effects of space flight on living systems was learned in experiments that were conducted under his tutelage.

"Ken Souza has been an amazing asset to NASA and Ames Research Center, both as a scientific researcher and as a leader and manager in his field," said Ames Center Director Henry McDonald. "His scientific credentials, management skills and leadership are exemplary. His contributions to the fields of space and gravitational biology have been immense. His retirement leaves big shoes to fill; he will be greatly missed."

"Ken brought a vision and passion for his work in space research that was remarkable. His commitment and in-depth knowledge epitomized excellence," said Dr. Kathy Olsen, acting Associate Administrator for NASA’s Office of Biological and Physical Research

Souza was appointed acting director of Ames’ Astrobiology and Space Research Directorate in 2001 after two years as its deputy director. He provided oversight for all hardware projects in the directorate, including the Space Station Biological Research Project, the Stratospheric Observatory for Infrared Astronomy (SOFIA), life science payloads for the space shuttle, Russian space station Mir and the International Space Station, and the recently approved Kepler project.

Souza began his career at Ames in 1966 as a research scientist after graduating with a bachelor’s degree in bacteriology from the University of California, Berkeley. His first job was the search for life in extreme environments, part of the field now known as astrobiology. After only a few months, he was invited to help with an experiment examining the effects of gravity on amphibian embryos.

Frog embryos were flown on Gemini 11 in November 1996, followed a month later by the launch of Biosatellite I with an extensive biological payload, including frog embryos. In 1967, the payload flew again on Biosatellite II. These Ames-managed biosatellites proved that fundamental biological processes, cell division, metabolism, growth and development, and radiation repair occurred with minimal changes during several days of orbital space flight.

Souza next was chosen to manage a new, mutually beneficial collaboration with the Soviets on the Cosmos series of biosatellites. "Our scientists were able to provide Soviet scientists with information about what was happening in a particular science discipline and show them some new techniques — all of which were readily available outside the Iron Curtain," Souza explained. "In return, we not only benefited from their spaceflight experience, but we got access to flight opportunities and specimens that would have cost us tens of millions of dollars." The collaboration was so successful that it was one of the very few US/Russian collaborations allowed to continue throughout the 1980s. These biosatellites provided the foundation for subsequent experiments on the space shuttle’s international life sciences Spacelab missions.

He earned a master’s degree in microbiology from San Jose State University, and in 1981, Souza became deputy chief of Ames’ Biomedical Research Division. From 1986 to 1994, Souza served as chief of Ames’ Space Life Sciences Payloads Office, where he led the development of nearly all of NASA's biological spaceflight experiments and hardware.

Souza served as principal investigator for a frog embryology experiment on a 1992 space shuttle mission. This experiment picked up where the early biosatellite experiments had ended. The frog eggs were fertilized in space, thereby exposing the process of fertilization and the gravity-sensitive period of early development to weightlessness. The experiment demonstrated for the first time that a vertebrate species could reproduce in the absence of gravity.

As Ames’ associate director for life sciences from 1994 to1996 and as chief of the Life Sciences Division, Souza provided leadership in the advancement of flight and ground-based life sciences research and technology. He led the division in the development and flight of mid-deck and Spacelab experiments on the space shuttle, including the completion of Neurolab, the most complex Spacelab mission ever flown. Working with Dr. Muriel Ross, he helped expand the Ames Center for Bioinformatics into a joint Ames/Stanford National Center for Biocomputation, which has provided groundbreaking technologies in telemedicine and virtual surgery.

Souza has published more than 40 scientific articles and received a variety of scientific and management awards, including NASA’s Exceptional Achievement Medal in 1980 and the Outstanding Leadership Medal in 1991 and 1998. In 1991, he received a scientific achievement award from the Institute of Biomedical Problems, Ministry of Health of the USSR.


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